MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Rosario Zapata, affectionately called Chaito by his employers and family, climbs a small ladder to reach the figurines on the shelves above his head. As he thoroughly cleans each one, he remembers how he started cleaning houses.
“Due to financial need, my mother sent me to work at the age of 15,” says Zapata.
Zapata is unfazed by the fact that her education is being cut short for clean houses, insisting that her older sister will always accompany her if she has to walk home in the dark. He considered his way of life normal. he was surrounded by girls doing the same thing.
The mother of three children has been a domestic worker for about 35 years. Two of the homes he goes to each week are 40 minutes north of his home in southern Mexico City, and the third home requires a two-hour drive into the state of Mexico, all by public transportation. Physical work has kept him fit and in good health. Zapata considers himself one of the lucky ones, working in a family that treats him well.
Mexico has one of the highest paid domestic workers in the Americas. It’s a job that often goes beyond cleaning to cooking, gardening and even babysitting. Many started working in this field as children, having to drop out of school to support their families. Their limited education means they cannot quit domestic work and must put up with low pay, poor working conditions and sometimes abuse.
Zapata belongs to the 98% of domestic workers who do not have a proper contract. Until 2019, domestic workers were excluded from social security, which every worker in Mexico is entitled to, which provides health care, sick pay, maternity pay and a pension fund. But in 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court extended this protection to domestic workers, declaring the exemption unconstitutional. Until Social Security became available to domestic workers in 2019, requiring their employers to sign them up for this benefit was optional. Of the 2.3 million people, mostly women, who do this work in Mexico, only 43,823 had registered for social security as of March 2022, more than three years after the ruling.
Aline Suarez del Real, GPJ Mexico
This registration became mandatory in November 2022 and employers will face fines for non-compliance. But Marcelina Bautista, an activist and former domestic worker of 22 years, says the reforms are still not enough to secure the rights of domestic workers.
Bautista, who in 2000 founded the Centro Nacional para la Capacitación Profesional y Liderazgo de las Empleadas del Hogar, an organization that advocates for domestic workers and offers support and training, says there is still a long way to go.
“The fact that the laws were passed, the fact that the law is in place today, those rights are not necessarily respected by employers,” he says.
For Edith Rosas, a domestic worker in Mexico City, the benefits will help, but that’s not the only problem she faces. As a single mother in her 50s without many job qualifications, the industry represents the highest paying job option for her. She has been cleaning and cooking for different families since the age of 19, all while raising three children. She remembers how she didn’t eat well when she started out, pushing herself to please her employer, but it made her sick. She tried to quit working at home and took a job as a cashier, but returned to the industry after a few years to earn more money. Unfortunately, he says, conditions have not improved.
“Not all bosses are bad, but most of them treat you worse than a dog,” says Rosas. “They are rude, oppressive and classist.”
Aline Suarez del Real, GPJ Mexico
Over the decades she has been taking care of other people’s homes, she has been subjected to all kinds of mistreatment. accused of theft without any evidence, expected to work overtime without extra pay or notice, subjected to shouting and degrading language, and accused of taking advantage of employers. Cleaning supplies.
Rosas has experienced the challenge of getting Social Security. One employer signed him up, but Rosas says they fired him after a few months for not meeting their expectations for his ability to carry heavy furniture during a move, he says.
“They only gave me social security once,” he says, referring to the family that fired him. “But not even three months later, the woman who employed me fired me very rudely. I told him that since he was firing me, he should pay me three months’ salary. No one will give it to you. You have to jump through hoops.”
Bautista says the attitude towards domestic work needs to change and the employer and employee need to be trained to manage social security.
“The work we do is to make the workers understand that this is one of their rights,” he says. “They’re not aware of their rights, and employers don’t always have it on their radar either. This means that neither side knows what to do, how to do it, where to go, and whether it is mandatory or not.”
Bautista said her organization plans to train domestic workers to help “professionalize the work of our partners,” then place them in jobs that ensure they receive a signed contract guaranteeing benefits.